At the chalkface: The winter entertainment

Written by: Ian Whitwham | Published:

They are finally doing something they really want. The place is no longer a neurotic exam factory but a real community, buzzing with creativity...

The corridors are suddenly full of strange, surreal wonders. A large white rabbit, a figure in a top hat, a gaudy Queen of Hearts, two very fat fellows in very silly suits, and a group of 7th years dressed as chess pieces.


Is this school’s new dress code?

Or Ofsted on one of their short, sharp shocks?

Or are they just visiting loonies?

Nope. They’re wandering theatricals. Pupils rehearsing for the school play, the winter pantomime, a loose and rather scary version of Alice in Wonderland. Always the highlight of the year, this starts next week. Drama teachers have devised a thrilling show for the whole school, all years, all faiths, all genders. Many pupils have downed tools and fled the curriculum completely. Bliss.

They are finally doing something they really want. The place is no longer a neurotic exam factory but a real community, buzzing with creativity. Children, hitherto trashed by the curriculum, are suddenly galvanised into life.

They even come in at weekends to work on scenery, sound, lights, music, costumes and script – Timothy Winters to design some fabulous sets, his girlfriend Molly to write some knockout scenes, Lily to practise some Tom Waits songs, Chin Lan to polish up a bit of Bach, Max to get the lights right, Seth to perfect some magic tricks, the 8th year choir to rehearse a killer version of In the Bleak Midwinter and the aforesaid 7th years to frolic charmingly on a giant chess board, painted with much care by arch delinquent Dave Mania.

Other prize hooligans, Charlie and Shaka, have taken to the boards and are going through their song and dance routine as Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Ofsted Inspectors. This promises to be even more amusing than their recent transgressive turn as Bill and Ben in a huge corporate flowerpot during a Staff Briefing. Several teachers will make fools of themselves and management will be mocked and not know it.

And little Rosie in 7th year will break your heart as Alice.

Will their lives get any better than this? There is little more visceral than a school play. At last they’ve been given the chance to show that they can do something. The connection between their audience and actors is electric. I will blub. Their parents will blub. Their chums will cheer them on. Feel the love – and the kindness, empathy, generosity of spirit, all enhanced by the free mulled punch served by jolly chess pieces.

Drama teachers are the heart of any school. We must keep them. They create magic worlds. Do we really have to return to the drear curriculum? Why can’t school be like this for the rest of the year?

  • Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.


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